Although Russian big business has become a target for global attacks, there are those among domestic billionaires who increased their wealth last year. According to the results of 2022, the owner of Acron, Vyacheslav Kantor, became the richest of all – Forbes calculated that now his assets are worth $13 billion against $4.6 billion a year earlier. True, calling Kantor a Russian can only be a stretch: the businessman also has Israeli and British citizenship.
However, Kantor’s presence in the list of domestic billionaires is justified – he earns in Russia. And while his name was in the third ten of the list of the richest Russians, the presence of foreign passports did not hurt his eyes so much. However, the latest revaluation of assets makes Kantor a contender for the fifth or sixth place in the ranking of the rich. Which automatically calls to his person – and at the same time citizenship – additional attention.
Grudges of Uncle Sam
It’s not just about passports – it’s no secret that entrepreneurs often change citizenship in the interests of developing their business. However, Cantor’s case looks atypical in this sense. He not only made money on international trade, but also cooperated with the governments of different countries. Otherwise, why then France awarded him the Order of the Legion of Honor, Italy – the Order of Merit for the Italian Republic, and Ukraine – the Order of Yaroslav the Wise? Also in the “piggy bank” of Vyacheslav Kantor there are state awards of Belgium, Poland and Romania. In fairness, it must be said that in 2016 Russia also noted his achievements with the Order of Honor “for the achieved labor successes and many years of conscientious work.” Apparently, we are talking about his leadership of the Akron group of companies, which produces fertilizers – Vyacheslav Kantor had no other notable job in Russia.
But the awards of European countries to Vyacheslav Kantor are mainly given for their contribution to the development of tolerance. The French, for example, noted his fight against anti-Semitism. It should be clarified here that Vyacheslav Kantor has served as President of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) since 2007 and was re-elected to this position 5 times. He left it only in April last year, after a businessman who had been living in London for many years was on the UK sanctions list.
British sanctions against Vyacheslav Kantor may have a double bottom. At first glance, this is a blow to the Russian “oligarch”. But at the same time – according to EEK. The organization has a strong position in the countries of Eastern Europe, while London is under the influence of the World Jewish Congress, headquartered in New York. And between the two Jewish congresses, one can notice some kind of competition for influence on the governments of different countries of the world.
In itself, the loud reassessment of Kantor’s fortune by Forbes magazine is also an interesting sign. Of course, fertilizer prices went up last year, but still, Kantor’s business is clearly under pressure from sanctions. What is worth even the blocking by Estonia of a huge batch of Akron fertilizers in the port terminal. In addition, Kantor himself, after being included in the sanctions lists, significantly reduced his stake in Akron, transferring shares to managers. And against this background, Forbes drew attention to Kantor’s assets. Well, it probably didn’t work out for him. A moneybag who has gone abroad can become an irritant for Russian politicians – it is not for nothing that calls have been made lately to “pinch” those who left the country in difficult times. The Americans also have reason to be dissatisfied with Kantor: in recent years, Akron has expanded supplies to China and even created its own distribution network there. This can be seen as ingratitude towards Uncle Sam. After all, Kantor gained control over nitrogen production not without ties with the United States.
In Russia, Vyacheslav Kantor already had a high political roof in the late 90s – he was an economic adviser to the chairman of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroev. Moreover, Stroev personally participated in corporate wars on the side of Akron
It happened in the following way. In the late 1980s, the son of Soviet trade figure Vladimir Kantor pursued a scientific career at the prestigious Moscow Aviation Institute, working in space communications. In 1989, he suddenly headed the joint Russian-American venture Intelmas, which soon received a contract to service the Azot state chemical plant in Veliky Novgorod. Given the connections of Kantor Sr., who ran stores in Moscow, gripped by a shortage of goods, there is nothing to be surprised at.
What was the function of “Intelmas” is now difficult to find out. However, a company with this name operates on the international market today. She deals with communications, cloud storage, process monitoring, mainly at industrial facilities in South America. Apparently, Intelmas, under the leadership of Vyacheslav Kantor, at one time received full control over the communications of the Russian state-owned enterprise. To such an extent that Kantor himself was able to privatize the Soviet chemical giant. It was on the basis of the Novgorod “Azot” that the Akron holding was created, which is now one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers. This is the American footprint.
However, in Russia, Vyacheslav Kantor already had a high political roof in the late 90s – he was an economic adviser to the chairman of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroev. Moreover, Stroev personally participated in corporate wars on the side of Akron. For example, in the late 90s, Akron clashed with Interkhimprom (backed by the current business ombudsman Boris Titov) over the Kirovo-Chepetsk chemical plant. Interkhimprom had been courting this asset for a long time, preparing for privatization, and in Minatom, which owned 38% of the company, Titov had everything in the ointment. However, Yegor Stroev wrote a letter to President Yeltsin, in which he painted in colors why it would be better to give the shares to Akron. One of the arguments was that Interkhimprom is connected with the British company Solvalub, and therefore it is unsuitable to transfer control over a strategic enterprise to foreigners (then the noteworthy patriot Yegor Stroev would have known that in a few years his protégé Vyacheslav Kantor himself would become a subject of the British crown !). The idea of Stroev not to let the British into Russian chemistry was then supported by Yakov Urinson, First Deputy Minister of Economy, and later – Chubais’s deputy in RAO UES. The head of the State Property Committee, Alfred Kokh, also spoke on Akron’s side. The decision in the spirit of “neither yours nor ours” was then made by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, as a result, the asset went to a third party – Uralchem, backed by Dmitry Mazepin.
In this regard, one cannot fail to recall another corporate war in which Vyacheslav Kantor’s Akron participated. Since 2008, Acron’s structures have competed with Uralkali for the development of the Talitsky site of the Verkhnekamskoye potassium-magnesium salt deposit. Akron managed to stake out areas that until then were unofficially considered the patrimony of Uralkali. The license for development was obtained, but the promised construction of the GOK was postponed and postponed – and Akron got away with it. However, in 2020, Uralkali became part of the aforementioned Uralchem. And the balance of power has changed significantly. Now, in the battle for raw materials, Vyacheslav Kantor is opposed by Dmitry Mazepin, who is now clearly on horseback. And what is characteristic: Mazepin relies on cooperation with the United States, where his son has long been living. What is the only project for pumping Togliatti ammonia through Ukraine to the port of Odessa in the interests of American buyers, which Mazepin is lobbying in every possible way, even involving the UN for this.
During the sanctions campaign in Italy alone, 11 villas associated with Vyacheslav Kantor were arrested. True, Italian officials did it with a creak – four months after the announcement of sanctions against Kantor by the European Union. At the same time, it turned out that part of the property was purchased from the family of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. One of the villas in Sardinia borders on Berlusconi’s Certosa estate.
So with regard to the Russian special operation in Ukraine, the nitrogen magnate is trying to sit on two chairs. Scientists from the Cantor Center at Tel Aviv University, founded by Kantor in Israel, made anti-Russian statements. There were leaks from Kyiv that Vyacheslav Kantor himself was preparing to receive Ukrainian citizenship after his wife, a Ukrainian by birth. This did not seem like a fantasy, given that Vyacheslav Kantor was known as an adviser to the Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yushchenko and is even credited with sponsoring the Orange Revolution. However, the press service of Vyacheslav Kantor denied the information about the acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship.